You are probably aware of Japan’s strict and numerous recycling policies. Every little neighborhood in Tokyo has its own recycling rules, from the number of sorting categories to the required use of special colored trash bags depending on the type of trash. Plastics is one such category that virtually every ward has, and everyone is required to separate plastics from other burnable trash. Plastic is not biodegradable and takes a long time to break down in the environment, so it is essential that it is recycled diligently, but are you aware of how much plastic Japan unnecessarily uses?
Japan wraps everything in plastic. Almost. They wrap bread, snacks, produce, pastas, etc. You will not walk into a grocery store and not leave without some plastic in your groceries, no matter how much you try to avoid that result. Japan’s obsession with good aesthetic and their desire to make sure that the customer is the only one that touches the final product largely drives this overuse of plastic. Japan is actually the world’s second largest producer of waste plastic per person, with China taking the icing on the cake.
Japan is a humid country, so wrapping produce that is subject to spoiling and rotting may keep produce fresher, and it is easier to identify different brands and quickly scan the groceries at checkout, but it does not justify the extent of plastic use. Most Japanese people don’t even really carry a reusable shopping bag, opting to use the convenient plastic bags provided at the register.
Fortunately, Japan has been taking steps towards cutting back on plastic waste, starting with the shopping bags. Most chain convenience stores and supermarkets now actually charge 2 to 3 yen per bag, with some stores not providing any bags at all. This step has slowly encouraged people to start carrying around a reusable bag and be conscious the next time they reach for something plastic.
Nonetheless, it is still shocking to see things like oranges and mangos individually wrapped, coming from a country where these things are displayed in huge tubs, all together, not separated by anything.